For a car show to exist, it needs vehicle manufacturers, suppliers, an organizational effort and members of the general public to attend. While there had been previous gatherings of car owners, the first official car show resulted from the establishment of the Automobile Club de France (ACF) in 1895.
In 1888, the ACF held its inaugural Exposition internationale d’automobiles in the gardens of the Tuileries in Paris. It ran from June 15 to July 3, and attracted more than 140,000 visitors. By comparison , the 2014 Mondial de l’auto in the same city drew 1,253,513 visitors, making it the world's biggest car show.
But let’s go back for a moment to 1898. To be allowed to exhibit its wares at the show, a manufacturer had to prove its worthiness by completing the 40-kilometre return journey from Paris to Versailles. Two years earlier at the bicycle show, some of the "automobiles” shown were difficult to take seriously, with an engine made of wood or, in at least one case, no engine at all.
The first edition of the Paris show admitted 234 exhibitors, including 77 car builders, and displayed over 300 vehicles of various kinds. Included were offerings by Peugeot, Panhard-Levassor, Benz and Daimler.
The show was divided into six sections: cars; engines, some of which could actually be observed running; tires, including the first inflatable tires invented by Michelin; car bodies, which were sold separately from chassis; parts, accessories and supplies; and the tooling and machinery required to build cars.
In Germany, the first proper car show was held from May 14 to 25, 1902, and was organized by the German automobile manufacturers’ association.
Italy held its first official car show in Turin from April 21 to 24, 1900. The Salone dell'Automobile di Torino featured 25 exhibitors, ten of them Italian, including custom coachbuilders and the recently established FIAT corporation, and drew some 2,000 visitors.
While there was an event for horseless carriages at the Imperial Institute in London in 1896, the first British Motor Show was held in 1903 at the Crystal Palace.